Lazaretto Quarantine Station

Tinnicum Township, PA

County Review of Firehouse

December 15, 2005

Ms. Jean L. McCoy
Tinicum Township
629 North Governor Printz Boulevard
Essington, PA 19029-1119
RE: Name of Dev't: Tinicum Fire House
DCPD File No.: 43-4945-00-05

Developer: Tinicum Township

Location: South side of Second Street, at the terminus of Printz Avenue

Recv'd in DCPD: November 23, 2005

Dear Ms. McCoy:

In accordance with the provisions of Section 502 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, the above described proposal has been sent to the Delaware County Planning Commission for review. At a meeting held on December 15, 2005, the Commission took action as shown in the recommendation of the attached review.

Please refer to the DCPD file number shown above in any future communications related to this application.

Very truly yours,

John E. Pickett, AICP
cc: Herbert E. MacCombie, Jr., P.E.

Date: December 15, 2005

File No.: 43-4945-00-05

PLAN TITLE: Tinicum Fire House

DATE OF PLAN: November 16, 2005

OWNER OR AGENT: Tinicum Township

LOCATION: South side of Second Street, at the terminus of Printz Avenue

MUNICIPALITY: Tinicum Township

TYPE OF REVIEW: Final Land Development



PROPOSAL: Develop 10.069 acres with fire department facilities totaling 38,500 sq. ft.

UTILITIES: All public

RECOMMENDATIONS: Disapproval, the proposed firehouse is not the highest and best use for a site on the National Register of Historic Places, its construction severely jeopardizes its eligibility and funding for National Historic Landmark status, and it is wholly inconsistent with riverfront development objectives formerly agreed upon by DCPD and the Township


F. L. 6

Date: December 15, 2005

File No.: 43-4945-00-05



This site was last reviewed by the Delaware County Planning Commission at its meeting of December 21, 2000, as a preliminary land development of 10.07 acres with an 8,000 sq. ft. restaurant/lounge/marina complex and airport parking. This proposal apparently was not finalized.


The current proposal is to further develop 10.069 acres with fire department facilities totaling 38,500 sq. ft.


The site currently contains seven buildings including the historic Lazaretto, and all are to remain. One structure shown as building "F" is to be moved in order to provide room to construct the proposed driveway.


The site is located in the L-Industrial zoning district of Tinicum Township. At the time of the previous review, a change in zoning classification to "W-1" was proposed, but it does not appear that this was ever concluded.


There are 58 categories of unacceptable uses in this district, and a fire department is not one of them so it is presumed that a firehouse is permitted, although it is not the highest and best use for this parcel.


Two of the existing buildings shown as items "D and E" have existing nonconforming side yards which will not be affected by this proposal.


Specific parking requirements for the proposed uses cannot be found in the Township zoning ordinance. Plan notes, however, state that 186 spaces are required and that 202 spaces are being provided. Municipal authorities should determine if this proposal is appropriate.


The plan appears to comply with the Township zoning ordinance on all dimensional requirements.


The applicant should work with Tinicum Township as the Township designs a multi-use path along the south side of Governor Printz Boulevard. This path will carry the East Coast Greenway, a mostly off-road bicycle and pedestrian route connecting urban areas from Maine to Florida. The Township intends to use the Powhattan Avenue right-of-way along the front of the applicant's property to Wanamaker Avenue.

The applicant and Township should refer to the Delaware County Route 291/13 Industrial Heritage Parkway and Greenway Landscape and Signage Guidelines, September 2005, prepared for the Delaware County Planning Department. This document, prepared with Tinicum Township's participation, provides guidelines for landscaping Route 291 property frontages as part of an initiative to improve the appearance of this highway corridor, making it more attractive to visitors and to potential businesses looking to relocate to the area, while improving the overall quality of life for residents. Landscaping should be done consistent with the guidelines document.


The municipal Engineer should verify the location of the 100-year floodplain as shown on the plan.


The proposed project indicates construction of a 36,500 sq. ft. firehouse and a 202-space parking lot occupying half of a nationally significant historic property. The ground currently planned for development contained critical historic resources and was continuously used throughout several phases of the Lazaretto's history. It is indicated as a high potential zone in our Countywide archaeological management plan. The Lazaretto is on the National Register of Historic Places and may also be eligible for National Historic Landmark status, the most elite of national designations. New construction of this magnitude would destroy the Lazaretto's historical context and integrity. In fact, the historic integrity may be so damaged that future funding and national historic landmark eligibility may be compromised. It is strongly recommended that the Township find an alternative location or design for the firehouse.

The site contains a very high potential for archaeological resources of national importance. The northwest corner of the ten acre parcel was the site of the Lazaretto Smallpox Hospital flanked by an attached kitchen and morgue, two stories high and 72 by 24 feet. The structure was demolished some time during occupancy of the seaplane base. Near the Hospital was a large burial ground for passengers who died in transit or quarantine and persons from surrounding areas who died from contagious diseases. Although an exhumation and relocation of the gravesite took place in 1900, most graves were unmarked, and the degree of completeness is unknown. Other outbuildings related to quarantine function such as an icehouse and storage buildings were also situated on the north side of the property.

To seal off or disturb this area would result in a massive loss of valuable information tied to a nationally significant historic site and an act of desecration to a sacred ground where hundreds or thousands of immigrants were anonymously buried. It is recommended that below grade investigation be conducted to determine the level of archaeological resources.

The proposed plan is not the highest and best use for a property with this level of national significance. The tremendous scale and sprawl of the proposed firehouse overly dwarfs the main building of the Lazaretto. The enormity of the proposed parking lot encroaches drastically onto the remaining portion of the site, nearly abutting the kitchen house, or "existing historic garage," and detaching the barn, or "existing historic carriage house," from the main building and Lazaretto complex with which it historically had a direct relationship, disrupting the historical context. The continuous expanse of the proposed firehouse frontage on Second Street would cancel the historic viewshed from the street. As an historic site on the National Register of Historic Places and a strong candidate for National Historic Landmark status, this site should not be compromised or diminished by a firehouse of this magnitude or the intrusion of such a large paved parking lot.

It is suggested that the Township choose an alternate location for the firehouse, preferably more centrally located, and use the northern acreage of the Lazaretto property for recreational activities tied to the riverfront that complement the character of the site. If the Township is unable to provide an alternate location for the firehouse, we strongly recommend implementing the design standards for waterfront land use and public access, including visual access. What we are suggesting is that the building be moved to the northeastern end of the site perpendicular to the river, and that the proposed evacuation center portion of the building be constructed on the second floor, thus reducing the block-wide view obstruction to the river, continuing the sight line of the Lazaretto main building's north elevation, pulling the parking area further away from the Lazaretto main building, and providing for even better river views from the second floor of the proposed building.

Second Street is also the proposed route of the Tinicum-Fort Mifflin Trail and East Coast Greenway, local and national bicycle/pedestrian routes, respectively. The Lazaretto should be clearly visible from Second Street and encourage visitation (after the building is restored), thus increasing spending in Essington by travelers. Sidewalks should also be constructed from Second Street to the Lazaretto.

It would appear that much of the parking proposed for the site, located between the Lazaretto and the firehouse, would primarily be used on an intermittent basis as parking for the evacuation center, not for the firemen. In order to preserve the visual character of the site as well as to provide stormwater infil-tration on the site, we recommend that the parking lot utilize a pervious surface such as paver blocks that would allow vegetation to show.

The plan illustrates 202 parking spaces where only 186 are required. The number of parking should be decreased to reduce encroachment onto the Lazaretto. The Township should consult with neighboring lots or use on-street/off-site spaces for additional parking if needed during larger events. Additional landscaping could be used as a buffer to lessen the visual intrusion. Generally, it is recommended that a minimum of 300' in space with buffering be provided between an historic structure the size of the Lazaretto main building and new construction to maintain the integrity of the historic site.

The plan proposes the entry driveway be located on the east side of the property. The main entry driveway to the "Historic Lazaretto Site" should remain on the western side of the property. The main entry to the Lazaretto was historically down this drive, also known as "Lazaretto Road." This path continues to be in use today and should not be moved to the east side.

The Planning Department, in its Delaware County Compendium of Waterfront Provisions (1998), provided a great deal of information regarding waterfront planning and development. An important focus of this document was the notion of water-dependent, water-related, and water-enhanced land uses as the highest and best uses for waterfront properties. The proposed firehouse does not fall under any of the categories noted above. Therefore, the Township should give consideration to relocating the firehouse to a less "valuable" parcel of ground, if possible.

Another focus of the document was on riverfront access, whether physical or visual, and it recommended the use of viewpoints and view corridors to provide for visual access where physical access may otherwise be unavailable. Viewpoints can be in a public park without physical access to the water, or they could be removed from the water and designated in a view area such as a viewing tower with periscopes. View corridors are also identified as a useful tool for allowing visitors to see the water through or around developments. View corridors are an open air space on a lot that provides a clear view across a lot to the water from an abutting street. View corridors can be accomplished through regulation of height, side yard setbacks, and building placement. The principle of view corridors could apply to any land use (water or buildings) that one desires to feature on the landscape.

The proposed location for the Township's new firehouse is within the first landside block along the Delaware River, with only the Lazaretto and its associated buildings lying between the proposed building and the water. While waterfront views are most desirable from and around the outside edges of the Lazaretto, this historic structure is also a landscape amenity worth preserving within its physical and cultural context along the Delaware River.

The Township, in consultation with DCPD staff, recently drafted a proposed W-1 Waterfront district that incorporated the principles as noted above. To date, this ordinance has not been adopted. It appears that the firehouse as designed would conflict with the spirit of the proposed ordinance.


The municipal Engineer must verify the adequacy of all proposed stormwater management facilities.


The municipal Engineer and/or Sewage Enforcement Officer should confirm whether the developer has received any required exemptions or planning module approvals prior to issuance of any building permits.


Should the Township approve this plan, in accordance with Section 513(a) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), final plans must be recorded within ninety (90) days of municipal approval.


The Lazaretto is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its status is being considered for designation to a National Historic Landmark. However, the degree of earthmoving associated with the construction of the firehouse and the massiveness of the resulting structure severely jeopardizes the site's eligibility and funding for this elite national designation.

The proposed firehouse does not represent the highest and best use for a property of such prominent historical status and is wholly inconsistent with waterfront development objectives reached by the Delaware County Planning Department and the Township regarding a new waterfront zoning classification (Waterfront-1/W-1) which contains suitable development regulations.

Because the site would be severely adversely affected regarding its national historic prominence and riverfront setting, it is strongly recommended that an alternative site be considered to locate a new firehouse. If this is not feasible, it is imperative that the design be revised incorporating the recommendations stated in the review, showing a reduction in scale along with a decrease in the number of bays and permitting physical and visual access to a restored Lazaretto structure as well as to the Delaware River.

F. L. 6